Date of review: July 3, 2013 | Reviewed by: Charmaine Mok
Situated in an industrial warehouse with a rolling view over Victoria Harbour, and the twinkle of vehicle lights set against the concrete runway that is the Eastern Corridor, Ta Pantry is a world away from its original homely incarnation in Wan Chai’s Ship Street. The design by Steve Leung is striking, the lengthy room brushed over with beautiful light woods, Continental knick knacks and plush upholstered chairs that gives us the feeling of being in an eccentric debutante’s dining room; the space can be separated into three private rooms, each of which are decorated in a specific theme. Our favourite is the very English tearoom set-up at the front, which is resplendent with Versace plates and vintage teaware, but the “rooster” room at the back is where you can get a glimpse into the kitchen via the pass. We love the corridor space with sliding glass doors where diners can nip out for a bit of a breather between courses and, of course, take in the breathtaking view.
With a new brigade of chefs behind her (at least two have previously worked at Amber), chef Esther Sham has amped up her repertoire of tasting menus that skitter the globe. Tradition is the backbone of her cooking, but the flesh of her menu is focused on utilising contemporary flair and elegant presentations. Fans of her original private kitchen will be pleased to see that most of her biggest hits are still present – we went for her classic “L’Indochine” menu, which takes recognisable south-east Asian flavours and promotes them using European techniques and concepts. Chef Tam starts us off with a witty little salami “taco” with fresh corn and quinoa, the sweet-and-salty crunch and squish of this amuse bouche setting the tone for the rest of the meal. Hokkaido scallop with green mango curry carpaccio raised a few eyebrows in delight, though the sea urchin crème was overpowered by the spices in the dish. Our favourite creation of the evening went to the delicate crabmeat ravioli served in a lemongrass-scented chicken bouillon; the pasta had perfect bite, and the sweetness of the crustacean was brought into sharp relief with the salty but pure chicken broth and floral notes of the lemongrass. In close second was not the slow-cooked veal cheek, but its supporting acts: in particular, the charred Brussels sprouts and blue cheese and miso sauce. Coco balsamic linguine was anointed with white truffle, which was superfluous as the sweet and tangy profile of the balsamic sauce, with a hint of coconut, was successful enough – enough to make us overlook the greasiness of the noodles. To finish, chef Tam veers well and truly away from Asia with a red wine poached pear crumble and tiramisu ice cream, which we felt was at odds with the rest of the menu and far too sweet for our taste. Recently, Tam launched her “Le Coréen” menu which features Korean flavours in the form of daurade carpaccio with yuzu soy sauce and Korean bean sprouts (done in the style of banchan), and wagyu beef cheek lasagne pepped up with fiery gochujang.
Ta Pantry is working in collaboration with innovative new wine storage facility Hip Cellar, which takes up a 5,000 sq foot space neighbouring the private kitchen. While primarily a space for oenophiles to keep their cachet of wines safe, there are wines available to purchase for those dining in Ta Pantry (there is no corkage fee for bottles bought from the cellar). A neat selection of wines spanning old world and new also includes more esoteric selections such as the natural Sine Qua Non “Upside Down” grenache from California. Bottles range from HK$260 to HK$2,700 retail, though expect to pay a small fee for glass rental.
Each private room will have a dedicated staff member to look after proceedings, which means service is quite attentive, yet discreet. Chef Sham at times will also present the dishes and introduce them herself, which is a personal touch that has not been lost in the new Ta Pantry.
There is a minimum charge at Ta Pantry of HK$6,800 per private room (which each seats up to 14 guests) between Monday and Thurdsay, and HK$8,160 on Friday, Saturday and public holidays. The menus actually range from HK$750 to HK$950 per person which, given the extraordinary setting and multiple courses of accomplished cooking, is a fair price to pay.